I Don’t Force my Kids to Hug. Here’s Why.

If you’re a parent of young kids, the following scenario might be all too familiar to you:

You’re at the grandparents’ house, or a playdate or family are over, and it’s time to leave. Your kids get their shoes on, help straighten up whatever crazy disaster they’ve made of the house, and you’re ready to head to the car and head back home. You gather the kids and say some version of the following:

“Alright kids, go give ______ a hug and let’s go.”

On the surface, it seems harmless. In our society, that’s what we do. When it’s time to leave, the kids hug the friends or the cousins or the grandparents and we head home. It’s the norm. But I’ve stopped forcing my kids to hug people and there’s a very simple reason why.

Their bodies belong to them. 

One of the most important things that we are trying to teach our daughters, especially the older two, is that everybody’s bodies belong to them, and nobody else. While we’ve taught them that we don’t use our bodies to get what we want and that we respect other people’s bodies, it’s becoming increasingly important to me that they know that we will never force them to do something with their bodies that they don’t want to do.

This is not to say that they don’t hug their friends. They do. They hug their grandparents, and they hug each other and us. But these days, we don’t force that. I’ve started presenting it as a question. “Do you want to go give Nana & Papa a hug goodbye?” or “Good morning Rylee, do you wanna come give me a hug?”

We are letting them choose what they do with their bodies because, at the end of the day, we are not in charge of their bodies. Their grandparents are not in charge of their bodies. They are in charge of their bodies and they can decide what they want to do with their bodies.

I realize this brings up a whole slew of opinions and questions about women and their bodies, and to be honest, I’m not here to have that discussion or argument. I think you can believe whatever you want about those issues and still understand that bodily autonomy is a crucial thing to teach our children. I’ve seen so many kids in tears hugging others because somebody forced them to and they didn’t want to hug. We’re so worried about hurting somebody’s feelings by withholding a hug that we’re hurting our kid’s feelings by essentially telling them that what they do with their bodies isn’t up to them, but up to someone else.

So let’s stop forcing our kids to hug people, even family members. Grandma and Grandpa will live without the hug. The cousins will be okay. The friends will still be their friends. If they want to hug, they’ll hug. If they don’t, they won’t. Life will go on.

I’d rather teach them that they are in control of themselves, rather than show them that someone else’s feelings are more important than their own.

Stephen Carter is a writer, husband, father, & friend. He lives in Portland with his wife Rachel, and 3 beautiful girls, Avery, Rylee, & Hattie. When he’s not reading or writing, he enjoys a local micro-brew, or a strong cup of coffee. He is passionate about literature, theology, justice, Daniel Day-Lewis movies, U2 records (but with strong reservations about No Line on the Horizon), and believes that the right words can change the world. He can be found on: Twitter: @stephenedwardc

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